The effect of stress on learning in surgical skill acquisition

Jeff T. Flinn, Amie Miller, Natalie Pyatka, Jacob Brewer, Tamera Schneider, Caroline G.L. Cao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: An excessive level of stress and anxiety in medical education can have a negative impact on learning. In particular, the interaction between attending surgeons and trainees in the operating room could induce stress on trainees that is counterproductive, especially if the teaching style or feedback is unduly harsh or critical. Aim: To characterize the effects of stress resulting from attending–trainee interaction during surgical skill acquisition. Methods: Forty medical students learned to perform the FLS pattern-cutting task for the first time in one of four scenarios. In the control condition, no mentor was present. In the three experimental conditions, participants were observed, encouraged, or criticized by an expert surgeon. Results: Task performance, as well as physiological and subjective indicators of stress, were measured. Taking both speed and accuracy into account, participants who were criticized performed the worst on the task, and those who were encouraged performed best. Physiological and subjective measures indicated that the criticized participants experienced the highest level of stress and anxiety. Conclusion: Even though providing constructive criticism to trainees is inevitable during the course of teaching, an exceedingly critical and negative mentoring style by attending physicians could be detrimental to trainees’ acquisition of surgical skills.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-903
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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